Learn bass like you have nothing to prove – because you don’t

Skip the “going pro” step and go straight for the fun

By Jon Liebman
February 3, 2023

OMG, look at everything I have to do!

Will I be able to get enough gigs? Will I make enough money? Will people keep calling me? And if they do, will they call me back? 

What happens if I play a wrong note? What if I play out of tune? What if my gear isn’t good enough? There’s so much pressure!

Aren’t you glad I’m not describing you?

This is your life

At this point in your life, your position and your point of view are very different than they would be if you were in your 20s or 30s trying to make it as a professional musician. 

Take a moment and just think about what an enviable position you’re in, being able to play bass just for the enjoyment, without having to worry about… anything!

Eventually, even people who have made a career out of playing bass often find themselves in a similar position, playing bass just because it’s fun.

Case in point: Sean O’Bryan Smith, this week’s FBPO interviewee.

For decades, Sean was constantly in “go” mode, having spent the last 20 years in Nashville, immersed in performing, recording, and film scoring.

Now, after working with everyone from Billy Ray Cyrus, Kenny Rogers, and the Oak Ridge Boys to Larry Carlton, Randy Brecker, and Gerald Albright, Sean now has a new credo when it comes to playing bass: 

Having fun. 

And he suggests you do the same.

“The older we get, the less B.S. we’re going to put up with”

“Make sure you’re having fun at it, especially (because) the older we get, the less B.S. we’re going to put up with. We don’t want to get sidetracked with stuff, so keeping the joy in it I think is a huge, huge thing for all of us.”

Sean definitely practices what he preaches. His newfound attitude towards music is ever apparent in his just released album, Musings of an Occasional Somebody. 

“I’m not playing a million notes any more,” Sean says. “You go play my first record, I am.”

Musings is actually a New Age album, quite a departure from everything Sean’s done up till now.

“There’s a lot to be said musically for those of us when we reach that age where we don’t have anything to prove,” he says, laughing, “so I think it’ll be good just for people not to forget that and have fun.”

Does this sound like you?

Sean even packed up and moved to Boca, where he now does some private teaching on bass. His description of one student in particular pretty much sums up what he’s saying.

“My student’s exactly what we’re talking about,” Sean says. “He’s mid-late 60s, he’s been playing in South Florida forever, but just wanted to improve his skills, or take what he’s been doing and, ‘Okay, what can we do to hone it? What have I been doing wrong for 40 years? What have I been doing right?’”

You’re in a great position right now

Now that you’ve reached a certain stage in your life, you can embrace this philosophy so much more than when you were younger. And if you’re retired, that’s even better.

“The good part with anybody older,” Sean says, “is just, you know, if you’re wanting to improve, other than just jamming and having fun, really sit down and think about it because, luckily, we have a little bit more time. ‘What do I really want to work on? What do I really want to improve on?’”

The next time you feel stressed out about all the things you need to keep track of while learning bass, consider all the things you don’t have to worry about and remember why you wanted to learn bass in the first place. You’re in a great position now, so take advantage of it. And have fun!

Next steps

How about you? What thoughts do you have about learning bass just for the fun of it, without having to worry about the stress of having a career as a professional bassist? Leave a comment below and let me know how you’re approaching learning bass. For more thoughts on the subject, watch my complete interview with Sean here.

Comments on Learn bass like you have nothing to prove – because you don’t

  1. Paul Morris says:

    Love it

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Glad to hear it! Thanks, Paul!

  2. Joyce Sheridan says:

    I like simple. I never was a paid professional musician and would never want to be. Playing in the orchestra, college band, and community marching band was hectic enough. I did sub some at the first college I went to in the 60’s with some groups; even then I didn’t like cramming in a 5 hour rehearsal, especially when I had to skip working on research papers for class the next day. And the bickering and pecking order was for the birds. I did enjoy my congregation group I played with years ago. If you made a mistake, we would just laugh at it; no big deal. I can’t take stress!

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, Joyce. Yes, simple is generally best! 🙂

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